What is Contemporary Art- Response by (Franklin) Perry Martin

Smith is mainly addressing the confusion surrounding issues of artistic definition.  He titles his installation “What is Contemporary Art,” and subsequently highlights the dilemma currently disallowing the definition of today’s artistic period.  Given that the world as we know it has finished its geographical expansion, the questions now become: How does one categorize the numerous examples of “contemporary” art extending from a level of cultural influence down to one of individual expression?  Merely considering the vast pool of artistic works that any given enthusiast, curator, collector, etc. has the opportunity to witness, has in fact, the ability to define the current period of art been lost completely?  Or as with artistic periods of the past- Modernism, Post-modernism, etc., is the defining factor one that can only be identified once the ‘period’ has necessarily ended?  Also, Smith considers the implications of classifying the history of contemporary art, and explains that this task is also relatively unachievable given that there is no distinct pathway that leads to the proliferation of “contemporary art” as a cultural entity.

Further, Smith touches on the generation gap.  The phenomenon of digitization has indeed placed a large wedge between the fundamental understandings of society and its movements between generations.  Counter intuitively, this does not close the door to the idea that contemporary art has the potential to receive an over-arching label.  However it does implicate a much larger source of artistic expression, as the lack of temporal separation dictated by a nominal ‘period,’ allows for individuals from a multiple generations and cultural styles to contribute to the growing cache currently falling under the umbrella of “Contemporary Art.”  The result of this is such a majorly diverse set of artistic examples that there is no strict definition and/or standard that contemporary art must atone to.  This along with the idea that the word ‘contemporary’ itself implies an adherence to what is perpetually new and current throws more fog onto the issue of determining a definitive nature of the movement from a historical perspective.

I would agree with Smith on many of his points, however rather than struggle to define a cultural movement as it is happening, I feel that in order for “Contemporary Art” to really show its colors (pun intended), one must allow the movement to grow naturally and define itself.  Subsequently, I would categorize this lack of labels and standards currently being implemented as an opportunity for art forms to liberate themselves from any sort of nominal truncation.   Insofar as artistic expression can be delineated into categories on a cultural level, the current mode of fast-paced individual expression alludes to the very issue Smith is discussing: the lack of a term that encompasses the entirety of what “contemporary art” necessarily is.  With the proliferation of culture today having characteristics largely influenced by individual expression, and later becoming defined by groups of people with similar styles, I am of the opinion that there might not be an opportunity to define another artistic movement as completely as we have in the past.

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